by Kim Hjelmgaard
LONDON — The apparent beheading of American journalist James Foley by an Islamic State (IS) militant may have been undertaken by a British national, the United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond conceded Wednesday.
In an interview with the BBC, Hammond acknowledged that the militant shown in the unverified video with Foley — a photojournalist seized in Syria in 2012 — spoke with a British accent and that it’s possible the perpetrator of the shocking killing, if confirmed, could be a Briton, he said. He said the video appeared to be genuine.
However, the video’s authenticity has still not been independently verified and the purported executor’s identity is not known.
“We’re absolutely aware that there are significant numbers of British nationals involved in terrible crimes, probably in the commission of atrocities, making jihad with IS and other extremists organisations,” Hammond told the BBC.
“This is something we have been tracking and dealing with for many many months and I don’t think this video changes anything,” he said. “It just heightens awareness of a situation which is very grave.”
In the video, a man with a shaved head is seen kneeling beside a masked militant. The man, possibly Foley, 40, who has been missing for two years, delivers what appears to be a scripted statement in which he links his death — “signed my death warrant” — to U.S. airstrikes and policy on Iraq.
“IS is clearly sending a message to the U.S. government with this act, but it’s also sending a message to the American people,” said Raffaello Pantucci, a researcher at Royal United Services Institute in London, a defense and security think tank. “The American public will look at this and think: ‘What is (President) Obama doing (in Iraq).'”
Pantucci said that British government estimates suggest there may be as many as 500-880 British nationals involved in jihad-relate activities for IS. “But we don’t really know what that means. We don’t know if that is nationals that have gone out there, stayed out there, died there, or have lived there all along,” he said.
In 2002, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was abducted in Pakistan by British national Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh. Pearl was later killed in Pakistan although the specific circumstances of his death remain unclear.
British Prime Minister David Cameron’s office said in a statement Wednesday that, “If true, the brutal murder of James Foley is shocking and depraved.” Downing Street said Cameron was cutting short his vacation and returning to the capital to discuss the situation in Iraq and Syria and the threats posed by IS.
“The U.K. has never really been able to tackle the problem of radicalization,” Pantucci said. “There’s been a trend of individuals who have been drawn to these (Mideast) conflicts from here. The thing about Syria and Iraq is that it is such an accessible narrative. These people can go look online and just decide to participate. With it’s proximity to Europe it’s just so easy to do.”